Contrary to a Common Myth, War is Bad for the Economy
Nobel prize winning economist Paul Krugman wrote yesterday:
Military spending does create jobs when the economy is depressed. Indeed, much of the evidence that Keynesian economics works comes from tracking the effects of past military buildups.
I am not a Nobel prize winning economist … but Joseph Stiglitz is.
Stiglitz wrote in 2003:
War is widely thought to be linked to economic good times. The second world war is often said to have brought the world out of depression, and war has since enhanced its reputation as a spur to economic growth. Some even suggest that capitalism needs wars, that without them, recession would always lurk on the horizon.
Today, we know that this is nonsense. The 1990s boom showed that peace is economically far better than war. The Gulf war of 1991 demonstrated that wars can actually be bad for an economy.
This is a no-brainer, if you think about it.
We’ve been in Afghanistan for almost twice as long as World War II. We’ve been in Iraq for years longer than WWII. We’ve been involved in 7 or 8 wars in the last decade. And yet still in a depression. (And see this).
If wars really helped the economy, don’t you think things would have improved by now?
Indeed, the Iraq war alone could end up costing more than World War II. And given the other wars we’ve been involved in this decade, I believe that the total price tag for the so-called “War on Terror” will definitely support that of the “Greatest War”.
Additional Reasons War Is Bad for the Economy
The New Republic noted in 2009:
Conservative Harvard economist Robert Barro has argued that increased military spending during WWII actually depressed other parts of the economy.
And from the left, Larry Summers and Brad Delong argued back in 1988 that “five-sixths of the decline in output relative to the trend that occurred during the Depression had been made up before 1942.”
Economist James Galbraith has shown that war always causes inflation, which hurts the average American:
Inflation applies the law of the jungle to war finance. Prices and profits rise, wages and their purchasing power fall. Thugs, profiteers and the well connected get rich. Working people and the poor make out as they can. Savings erode, through the unseen mechanism of the “inflation tax” — meaning that the government runs a big deficit in nominal terms, but a smaller one when inflation is factored in.
(Ben Bernanke says that inflation is a tax, and Dylan Grice notes that inflation causes societies to prosecute minorities. And – sorry – but we can’t inflate our way out of our debt trap.)
As I noted last year:
All of the spending on unnecessary wars adds up.
The U.S. is adding trillions to its debt burden to finance its multiple wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen, etc.
Two top American economists – Carmen Reinhart and Kenneth Rogoff – show that the more indebted a country is, with a government debt/GDP ratio of 0.9, and external debt/GDP of 0.6 being critical thresholds, the more GDP growth drops materially.
Specifically, Reinhart and Rogoff write:
The relationship between government debt and real GDP growth is weak for debt/GDP ratios below a threshold of 90 percent of GDP. Above 90 percent, median growth rates fall by one percent, and average growth falls considerably more. We find that the threshold for public debt is similar in advanced and emerging economies…
Indeed, it should be obvious to anyone who looks at the issue that deficits do matter.
A PhD economist [Michel Chossudovsky] told me:
War always causes recession. Well, if it is a very short war, then it may stimulate the economy in the short-run. But if there is not a quick victory and it drags on, then wars always put the nation waging war into a recession and hurt its economy.
You know about America’s unemployment problem. You may have even heard that the U.S. may very well have suffered a permanent destruction of jobs.
But did you know that the defense employment sector is booming?
As I pointed out in August, public sector spending – and mainly defense spending – has accounted for virtually all of the new job creation in the past 10 years:
The U.S. has largely been financing job creation for ten years. Specifically, as the chief economist for BusinessWeek, Michael Mandel, points out, public spending has accounted for virtually all new job creation in the past 10 years:
Private sector job growth was almost non-existent over the past ten years. Take a look at this horrifying chart:
Between May 1999 and May 2009, employment in the private sector sector only rose by 1.1%, by far the lowest 10-year increase in the post-depression period.
It’s impossible to overstate how bad this is. Basically speaking, the private sector job machine has almost completely stalled over the past ten years. Take a look at this chart:
Over the past 10 years, the private sector has generated roughly 1.1 million additional jobs, or about 100K per year. The public sector created about 2.4 million jobs.
But even that gives the private sector too much credit. Remember that the private sector includes health care, social assistance, and education, all areas which receive a lot of government support.***
Most of the industries which had positive job growth over the past ten years were in the HealthEdGov sector. In fact, financial job growth was nearly nonexistent once we take out the health insurers.
Let me finish with a final chart.
Without a decade of growing government support from rising health and education spending and soaring budget deficits, the labor market would have been flat on its back.
Indeed, Former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich lamented last year
America’s biggest — and only major — jobs program is the U.S. military.
Back to my essay:
Raw Story argues that the U.S. is building a largely military economy:
The use of the military-industrial complex as a quick, if dubious, way of jump-starting the economy is nothing new, but what is amazing is the divergence between the military economy and the civilian economy, as shown by this New York Times chart.
In the past nine years, non-industrial production in the US has declined by some 19 percent. It took about four years for manufacturing to return to levels seen before the 2001 recession — and all those gains were wiped out in the current recession.
By contrast, military manufacturing is now 123 percent greater than it was in 2000 — it has more than doubled while the rest of the manufacturing sector has been shrinking…
It’s important to note the trajectory — the military economy is nearly three times as large, proportionally to the rest of the economy, as it was at the beginning of the Bush administration. And it is the only manufacturing sector showing any growth. Extrapolate that trend, and what do you get?
The change in leadership in Washington does not appear to be abating that trend…
So most of the job creation has been by the public sector. But because the job creation has been financed with loans from China and private banks, trillions in unnecessary interest charges have been incurred by the U.S.And this shows military versus non-military durable goods shipments:Click here to view full image.]
So we’re running up our debt (which will eventually decrease economic growth), but the only jobs we’re creating are military and other public sector jobs.
PhD economist Dean Baker points out that America’s massive military spending on unnecessary and unpopular wars lowers economic growth and increases unemployment:
Defense spending means that the government is pulling away resources from the uses determined by the market and instead using them to buy weapons and supplies and to pay for soldiers and other military personnel. In standard economic models, defense spending is a direct drain on the economy, reducing efficiency, slowing growth and costing jobs.
A few years ago, the Center for Economic and Policy Research commissioned Global Insight, one of the leading economic modeling firms, to project the impact of a sustained increase in defense spending equal to 1.0 percentage point of GDP. This was roughly equal to the cost of the Iraq War.
Global Insight’s model projected that after 20 years the economy would be about 0.6 percentage points smaller as a result of the additional defense spending. Slower growth would imply a loss of almost 700,000 jobs compared to a situation in which defense spending had not been increased. Construction and manufacturing were especially big job losers in the projections, losing 210,000 and 90,000 jobs, respectively.
The scenario we asked Global Insight [recognized as the most consistently accurate forecasting company in the world] to model turned out to have vastly underestimated the increase in defense spending associated with current policy. In the most recent quarter, defense spending was equal to 5.6 percent of GDP. By comparison, before the September 11th attacks, the Congressional Budget Office projected that defense spending in 2009 would be equal to just 2.4 percent of GDP. Our post-September 11th build-up was equal to 3.2 percentage points of GDP compared to the pre-attack baseline. This means that the Global Insight projections of job loss are far too low…
The projected job loss from this increase in defense spending would be close to 2 million. In other words, the standard economic models that project job loss from efforts to stem global warming also project that the increase in defense spending since 2000 will cost the economy close to 2 million jobs in the long run.
The Political Economy Research Institute at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst has also shown that non-military spending creates more jobs than military spending.
So we’re running up our debt – which will eventually decrease economic growth – and creating many fewer jobs than if we spent the money on non-military purposes.
As I wrote last year:
It is ironic that America’s huge military spending is what made us an empire … but our huge military is what is bankrupting us … thus destroying our status as an empire.
Even Admiral Mullen seems to agree:
The Pentagon needs to cut back on spending.
“We’re going to have to do that if it’s going to survive at all,” Mullen said, “and do it in a way that is predictable.”
Indeed, Mullen said:
For industry and adequate defense funding to survive … the two must work together. Otherwise, he added, “this wave of debt” will carry over from year to year, and eventually, the defense budget will be cut just to facilitate the debt.
Former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates agrees as well. As David Ignatius wrote in the Washington Post in May:
After a decade of war and financial crisis, America has run up debts that pose a national security problem, not just an economic one.
One of the strongest voices arguing for fiscal responsibility as a national security issue has been Defense Secretary Bob Gates. He gave a landmark speech in Kansas on May 8, invoking President Dwight Eisenhower’s warnings about the dangers of an imbalanced military-industrial state.
“Eisenhower was wary of seeing his beloved republic turn into a muscle-bound, garrison state — militarily strong, but economically stagnant and strategically insolvent,” Gates said. He warned that America was in a “parlous fiscal condition” and that the “gusher” of military spending that followed Sept. 11, 2001, must be capped. “We can’t have a strong military if we have a weak economy,” Gates told reporters who covered the Kansas speech.
On Thursday the defense secretary reiterated his pitch that Congress must stop shoveling money at the military, telling Pentagon reporters: “The defense budget process should no longer be characterized by ‘business as usual’ within this building — or outside of it.”
While some might want to start another war, America’s top military leaders and economists say that would be a very bad idea.
Indeed, military strategists have known for 2,500 years that prolonged wars are disastrous.
Note 1: Security experts – conservative hawks and liberal doves alike – agree that waging war in the Middle East weakens national security and increases terrorism. See this, this, this, this, this, this and this.
Terrorism – in turn – terrorism is bad for the economy. Specifically, a study by Harvard and the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) points out:
From an economic standpoint, terrorism has been described to have four main effects (see, e.g., US Congress, Joint Economic Committee, 2002). First, the capital stock (human and physical) of a country is reduced as a result of terrorist attacks. Second, the terrorist threat induces higher levels of uncertainty. Third, terrorism promotes increases in counter-terrorism expenditures, drawing resources from productive sectors for use in security. Fourth, terrorism is known to affect negatively specific industries such as tourism.
The Harvard/NBER concludes:
In accordance with the predictions of the model, higher levels of terrorist risks are associated with lower levels of net foreign direct investment positions, even after controlling for other types of country risks. On average, a standard deviation increase in the terrorist risk is associated with a fall in the net foreign direct investment position of about 5 percent of GDP.
So the more unnecessary wars American launches and the more innocent civilians we kill, the less foreign investment in America, the more destruction to our capital stock, the higher the level of uncertainty, the more counter-terrorism expenditures and the less expenditures in more productive sectors, and the greater the hit to tourism and some other industries.
Terrorism has contributed to a decline in the global economy (for example, European Commission, 2001).
So military adventurism increases terrorism which hurts the world economy. And see this.
Note 2: True conservatives are anti-war.